Is Acute HIV Infection?
Acute HIV infection is a
condition that develops within two to four weeks after someone is infected with
Acute HIV infection is also known as primary HIV infection or acute retroviral
syndrome. It is the primary stage of infection and lasts until the body has
created antibodies against HIV.
During this first stage of
infection, the virus is duplicating at a rapid rate. Unlike other viruses, which
the body's immune system can normally fight off, HIV can’t be eliminated by the
immune system. This means the virus can live in your body for extended periods
of time. As HIV progresses, the virus attacks and destroys immune cells,
leaving the immune system unable to fight off other diseases and infections.
When this happens, the HIV infection can lead to the development of AIDS.
Acute HIV is contagious. However,
most people with acute HIV infection don’t even know they’re infected. This may
be because they aren’t tested for HIV on a regular basis, or because standard
HIV antibody tests aren’t always able to detect this stage of infection.
Are the Symptoms of Acute HIV Infection?
Acute HIV symptoms are similar to
those of the flu and other viral illnesses, so people may not suspect that they
are infected with HIV. In fact, more than 1.2 million people living with HIV don’t know they have
the virus. Getting tested is the only way to know if you have been infected.
Symptoms of acute HIV infection
- sore throat
- night sweats
- loss of
- ulcers that
appear in the mouth, esophagus, or genitals
- muscle aches
Many people with acute HIV
infection don’t have any symptoms. However, if you do experience symptoms, they
may last for a few days or up to four weeks.
Causes Acute HIV Infection?
Acute HIV infection occurs within
two to four weeks after initial exposure to the virus. HIV is spread through:
syringes or needles with an infected person
- contact with
infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluids
mothers passing the virus on to their baby during pregnancy or through breast-feeding
HIV is not spread
through casual physical contact, such as hugging, holding hands, or sharing
food utensils with an infected person.
Is at Risk for Acute HIV Infection?
Acute HIV infection doesn’t
always develop into HIV or AIDS. In some people, an HIV infection may remain
quiet for years or decades. Others may never develop advanced HIV or AIDS.
HIV can affect people of any age,
race, or sexual orientation. However, certain groups may be more at risk for
HIV. These include:
- people who
inject drugs using needles and syringes
- men who have
sex with men
Is Acute HIV Infection Diagnosed?
Your primary care provider will
perform a series of tests to check for HIV if the virus is suspected.
A standard HIV screening test won’t
necessarily detect acute HIV infection. Many HIV screening tests look for
antibodies to HIV rather than the virus itself. Antibodies are proteins that
recognize and destroy harmful substances, such as viruses and bacteria. The
presence of certain antibodies usually indicates a current infection. However,
it can take several months after an initial infection for antibodies to appear,
so diagnosis can be delayed.
Some tests that may be able to
detect signs of acute HIV infection include:
- HIV RNA
- p24 antigen
- CD4 count
- HIV ELISA
and Western blot tests
Is Acute HIV Infection Treated?
Proper treatment is crucial for
people who are infected with HIV. Healthcare providers and scientists continue
to debate whether early, aggressive treatment should be used for all people
with HIV. Early treatment may minimize the effects of the virus on your immune system.
However, HIV medications can have serious side effects when used for long-term
treatment. It’s important to discuss all treatment options and potential side
effects with your healthcare provider to determine which treatments are right
In addition to medical treatment,
your doctor may tell you to make certain lifestyle adjustments, including:
- eating a
healthy, balanced diet to help strengthen your immune system
safe sex to decrease the risk of passing the virus on to others and to reduce
your risk of getting sexually transmitted infections
stress, which can also weaken your immune system
exposure to people with infections and viruses, since you may have a harder
time fighting off disease
on a regular basis
active and maintaining your hobbies
Are the Complications of Acute HIV Infection?
Over time, acute HIV infection can
suppress your immune system. This may make you more susceptible to infections
and other illnesses. This condition also increases your risk of developing
certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma. Other possible complications include:
In some people, acute HIV
infection will eventually lead to AIDS. This can be avoided if the condition is
treated quickly and effectively.
Is the Outlook for Someone with Acute HIV Infection?
There’s no cure for HIV, but you
can still live a long, productive life if treatment is received promptly. The
outlook is best for people who begin treatment before HIV has damaged their
With the right treatment, you can
also help prevent HIV from developing into AIDs, improving both your life expectancy
and quality of life. In most cases, HIV can be manageable over the long term
even though it’s a chronic condition.
Can Acute HIV Infection Be Prevented?
You can prevent acute HIV infection
by avoiding exposure to potentially infectious fluids. These include blood,
semen, and vaginal fluid. You can also reduce your risk of developing HIV by
making smart choices.
practice safe sex by using a
condom with all of your sexual partners. You may be able to have unprotected
sex if you’re in a monogamous relationship and if both you and your partner
have tested negative for at least six months.
intravenous drugs. Never
share or reuse needles when injecting drugs into your body. Many cities have
needle exchange programs that provide sterile needles.
assume that blood might be infectious. Protect yourself by using latex gloves
and other barriers.
tested for HIV. Getting tested is the only way to know whether or not you have HIV. If you test positive for HIV, you can get treatment
and take steps to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend yearly testing for people who use
intravenous drugs, people who are sexually active and have multiple partners,
and people who have had sex with an infected individual.
Getting an HIV diagnosis can be
devastating, so it’s important to have a strong support network that can help
you deal with any stress and anxiety you may be feeling. You may want to speak
with a counselor or join a support group where you can discuss your concerns
with others who can relate to what you’re going through.